The Making Of The Getaway
We dig into the story of how a seemingly generic cancelled Playstation title became an open world, gangster-filled, violence-fuelled, bloody tale of epic proportions
How Team Soho turned London into a sweary gangster-filled open world
Chun Wah Kong, lead designer of The Getaway, always counted himself as lucky to be working on Team Soho’s sweary thirdperson action game, but when scouting for locations in a lap dancing bar during office hours, he paused for a second and thought, “How did I get here where I’m being paid to do this?”
Long before The Getaway sold 3.5 million copies, became one of the Playstation 2’s most iconic titles, and Chun was sat in that bar pinching himself, the ambitious open world title started off as a prototype for the original Playstation. However, with the Playstation being at the tail end of its lifecycle and the warm shining light of the PS2’S Emotion Engine on the horizon, the project – internally known as
Car 2 for Sony’s 32-bit machine – was switched over to the Playstation 2. But with the promise of a next-generation system came the chance to expand upon the original premise of Car 2. In speaking about the genesis of The Getaway in its Playstation 2 incarnation, Chun explains, “Once we had settled with the basic getaway driver premise, I went about writing numerous scenarios and gameplay mechanics that would lend themselves to this theme. These ideas were quite self-contained, and we needed a way to string them together. I remember going for lunch with Brendan Mcnamara [The Getaway’s director] at Yo! Sushi on Poland Street, which was just round the corner from the office. We talked about injecting a cinematic feel into the game, and how it would be character driven. We wanted to turn it into an action movie with high-speed chases down London streets.
“It would be a tale of London’s notorious gangs fighting over territory and power; it would be gritty, it would most certainly be an 18 certificate. To tell such a story, we would need photorealism: the characters, the cars, the streets, everything. We got back to the office and we laid all these ideas on the table and thrashed out a storyline that allowed for these individual scenarios to form a simple but coherent story arc.”
With the Playstation 2 dev kits en-route to the office, Team Soho was raring to go with its newfound game plan. Chun remembers the feeling of elation in the office. “It really felt like anything was possible. You dreamt it, and it could be done,” he says. At its heart, The Getaway was naturally inspired by a slew of classic London-based gangster movies. Andrew Hamilton, graphic designer on the project, dishes out the films the PS2 classic took note of, “The biggest influence for The Getaway was Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels. It had come out a couple of years previously and had made London and its criminal underworld cool again. It was definitely an influence in not only how we wanted to show London, but also in the graphic design for the game, and in turn the movies that influenced their style such as Get Carter, and The Italian Job. The Long Good Friday was another influence, as it’s the British gangster movie!” The story of The Getaway is gritty, violent and stylish, and features two main storylines that intersected at various points. In the primary storyline, the player takes the role of Mark Hammond an ex-gangster who,
it really felt like anything was possible. You dreamt it, and it could be done Chun Wah Kong
after his wife is murdered and his child is kidnapped, becomes the grim errand boy of London’s biggest gangster, Charlie Jolson. The second storyline that runs concurrent with Hammond’s lets players assume the role of someone on the complete opposite side of the tracks, police officer Frank Carter.
Though Chun agrees with Andrew in terms of movie influences, he does offer up an additional source of inspiration that led to The Getaway, and perhaps one that many would not have imagined. “Around that time I had just finished playing the Japanese version of Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast and I really loved the interwoven storylines,” he remembers. “So from that came about the idea of different characters seeing the world from their own perspective and how they would interpret the same circumstances differently.” Though the game does indeed feature two storylines that often cross over, the original plan for this Sonic Adventure-styled interweaving narrative was planned to be far more dynamic than it ultimately became.
Chun continues, “In an early version of the design, as well as Mark and Frank, the player could also play as Susie, Yasmin and Harry. Some of these games would come before the main story timeline in the final game, eg: As Harry you would lead a small gang of Charlie’s men around the city to collect debt and protection money. All this made for better character development, creating deeper character relationships, as well as a more varied gameplay experience. For instance, Susie was supposed to be a singer and her section was a rhythm game! It was a bit of a shame we drop these ideas, but all the extra work would’ve killed us.”
In speaking about how he approached gameplay differences of Hammond and Carter, Chun says, “Looking back, perhaps they are not as different as I would have liked them to be and I relied too heavily on the NPCS’ response to Mark and Frank to provide those nuances. So, for example, Mark’s character can take hostages and use them as human shields. If the player manages to grab a high-ranking gangster, his footsoldiers would be ordered to surrender. Whereas if you grabbed a low-level thug, no one would care if he gets shot in the crossfire. Frank’s character doesn’t take hostages, instead he restrains them with cable tie handcuffs. Both characters had simple elements of teamplay with friendly NPCS, but Frank’s character took this a step further when assisted by the specialist firearms SO19 unit.”
Carter’s story was unlocked once the player finished Hammond’s set of 12 missions, and focused more on shootouts, whereas Hammond’s playthrough had more driving. Designed to not be especially harder than the first playthrough, Chun says his goal for Carter’s storyline was “a bit like Ghouls N’ Ghosts when Arthur is going through the levels a second time with the Psycho Cannon weapon. It was fun without the difficulty.”
One of the major selling points of The Getaway was its depiction of London, as instead of a city simply ‘inspired’ by London much like Liberty City in GTA is Rockstar Games’ fictional version of New York City,
i had just finished playing the Japanese version of sonic adventure on the Dreamcast and i really loved the interwoven storylines Chun Wah Kong
the team painstakingly recreated a full ten square miles of London within the game. The process of recreating London began by carving the city into pieces and assigning territories to the four gangs of The Getaway: East End Gang, Yardies, Triads and Soho Gang. Detailing this process Chun says, “After we gave identities to the four gangs, we set about assigning their territories and finalising The Getaway’s world map. We started with the East End Gang in Bethnal Green and the Chinese Triads in Chinatown. A straight line from these two points on the map already measure over three miles in real life. And with the Soho Gang, the Jamaican Yardies Gang, the landmarks that had to be in the game to represent London, and other special level design requirements in place, the exterior world map started to take shape.
“We made sure we had covered the main road arteries between the different areas with denser back streets and shortcuts around the places of interest.
I put it down to ambition and naivety for the size of world map. Additionally, road building tools were created and handled by a 3D package called Maya, with level designers making sure that the road widths, gradient, pavement type, markings and everything else were accurately recreated.”
Beyond getting the outline and roads of London nailed down, the next step was arguably the most arduous. Armed with an early Sony Mavica digital camera that saved photographs on a clunky 3.5-inch floppy disc, which could barely hold one uncompressed image at a time, a team of artists descended upon London and snapped every iconic area and building they could, leading to a gigantic library of assets they could pull from when rebuilding the city within the game. The same artists also took images that could be used for realistic textures, which helped hit home a level of realism largely unseen on the Playstation 2 until The Getaway. Furthermore, Stuart Harvey (level designer) braved the scrutiny of the great British public when he drove around the city with a DV camcorder strapped to the top of his car.
The stunt did see him being pulled over by the police on several different occasions, but it did help the team successfully recreate authentic population density and footfall among London’s busiest areas. Andrew hits home both the teams ambition and goal by saying, “One of the goals we wanted for The Getaway was for it to be a real London, it’s where we lived and worked. The Getaway was one of the first, if not the first, game to faithfully recreate a city using photography, something that’s pretty common these days, but back in 2000 hadn’t ever been attempted.”
Another standout element of The Getaway is its complete lack of HUD. Solely done for the purpose to help pull the player into the ongoing cinematic experience, how the team conveyed information to the player in a grounded and logical way was effective, daring and, even to this day, incredibly innovative. For instance, instead of a minimap that the player would follow during their many high-speed chases and escapes throughout London, flickering left and right indicators on the players car would simply turn on and off to direct the player in the direction of their objective. If a car was smashed up enough that the indicators were destroyed, the player had no option but to abandon their vehicle and find another one, unless they wanted to get lost among the streets of London. Additionally, changes in health status was also achieved purely by visuals, too. As the player received damage, blood would begin soaking through their clothes and down their faces as they slowly hunched over as they feebly attempted to walk or run. The only way to heal the character throughout the game was to have them lean against a wall as their caught their breath, which added to the sense of gritty realism that oozed from every pore of The Getaway.
“Ultimately, I think players appreciate these innovations and chances we took with the design
of The Getaway,” Chun says of this approach to realism, “They were part of the game’s identity, its charm. As they say, ‘Originality is underrated.’”
As The Getaway was a new frontier for its entire team, Chun did have his worries. He explains, “I used to worry a lot and Brendan Mcnamara would tell me, let the programmers, artists and animators worry about them. These things might sound trivial now, but back then it was an incredible accomplishment to mocap multiple people in the same scene at the same time. We did so to get the best performances from the actors. We eliminated loading screens with a dynamic loading system so you can roam freely in the game, creating a seamless experience. Lesser games back then normally would have stopped to load a new area, or an interior level. There was also the transition from a team that was experienced in making racing games to one where character-based action adventure had an equal if not bigger share of the game, I must confess that initially had a lot of people worried. I remember the day when I could press the ‘exit car’ button and was able to run around as Mark, that was a watershed moment made possible by the hard work of programmers like Jim Bulmer (player character programmer) and the animation team.” Worries were not just technical however, as the team’s legal department had the gigantic undertaking of acquiring a slew of car licences to use. With over 50 cars in the game from brands such as Lexus, Renault, Toyota, Mercedes-benz and BMW, this was no easy feat. In fact, some cars that were featured in the game during development now only exist within early beta versions of the game, most likely lost to gaming history.
Looking back at the The Getaway, Andrew remarks, “It was the first triple-a game I worked on, and the first time I’d seen the artwork we’d created everywhere – what felt like every shop window around. It was also the 100 millionth disc though Sony’s DADC, which the team all got a limited edition version of the game to commemorate that. We even had a ‘premier’ in Leicester Square at a cinema, with limos, press, and a red carpet. How can you not look back at that
fondly? For me, it led to a lot opportunities and took me to Australia to work with Brendan Mcnamara on LA Noire, and then brought me back to Playstation where I work now at SIE out of the Santa Monica Studio. At the end of the day, I hope that The Getaway is remembered as an important game in the industry. We tried something new, to faithfully recreate a city we lived and worked in, and make a game you could play in it. I think we did that quite well.” Chun shares Andrew’s love and appreciation for the title, too. ”I only have fond memories. I don’t really think about the game so much but the family we formed as a team. I’m beyond grateful that I had the privilege to work with such talented people on such an extraordinary game that broke so many new grounds, and for the trust that everyone put in me. Everything I did was from the heart. I must also mention the hard work our PR department and international department did. I got a kick out of the game being licensed to Capcom in Japan – how cool was that? I think we all share a strong sense of ownership of the game, having devoted three years of our lives to the project; living, breathing The Getaway. The most fun I’ve had making a game ever. I would also like to thank the fans of The Getaway. Over the years we have chatted on social media and at game expos. I’m eager to see a fresh take on the franchise. Some people said the original couldn’t be done, so I would say never say never.”
Despite the teams concerns and the gargantuan task of creating The Getaway that even most seasoned developers would surely have crumbled under, the game came together to be one of the most iconic titles in the PS2’S library. Though a sequel and spin-off came and went without the fanfare the original enjoyed, the franchise is still one that is often requested for a revival by Playstation fans worldwide. Perhaps one day that dream will become a reality, but for now at least gamers will always have the 2002 London time capsule that Team Soho lovingly created against all the odds.
We tried something new, to faithfully recreate a city we lived and worked in, and make a game you could play in it Andrew Hamilton
» Anna playing the role of Yasmin in a motion capture session.
» Hammond is in a spot of trouble in this promotional poster, one of many created by artist Julian Gibson. » Chun Wah Kong was lead designer of The Getaway.
» A lifelike recreation of The Getaway’s big bad: Charlie Jolson. » Geared-up actors and technical staff preparing for a motion capture session. » [PS2] Yasmin and Hammond make a fantastic duo, and though they don’t share a lot of screen time, it’s a memorable team-up. » [PS2] In one of the more memorable missions, Hammond must drop a dead Triad gang member directly into the heart of Triad gangland.
While visiting his mentor in UCL Hospital in Bloomsbury, Carter must fight off attacking members of the Bethnal Green Mob.Cracking down on a Bethnal Green Mob run brothel in Marylebone, Carter makes the arrest of Jake Jolson.Sent on his second errand by Charlie Jolson, Hammond must steal a Terracotta soldier statue in Hyde Park containing a kilo of Cocaine. » [PS2] As the player gets damaged, their character will grasp their bleeding wounds, and eventually hunch over in pain. » [PS2] As flashing indicators on a car essentially take the role of a minimap, once they’re smashed it’s time to find a new ride.After the murder of his wife and the kidnapping of his child in Soho, Hammond is used as a pawn in Charlie Jolson’s masterplan.Swearing vengeance, Hammond and Yasmin bring the fight to Charlie Jolson’s mansion in Mayfair.After making his way to Chinatown, Carter finds himself amid a gang war between the Yardies and the Triads.After rescuing two fellow police officers at a Yardie Crack house on Holywell Street, Carter soon discovers that his boss is corrupt.Hammond, Carter and Yasmin’s fates are revealed as they go head-to-head with the Bethnal Green Mob near Tower Bridge.
» [PS2] Much like London itself, there’s a great variety of interior locations in The Getaway, including the dimly-lit Yardie crackhouse. » Chun and the team testing out the motion capture equipment. » Don Kembry played the role of tortured protagonist Mark Hammond. » The mocap scenes were a big deal at the time, and are common practice in the gaming industry today.